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Vadim SALMANOV (1912-1978)
The Twelve - Oratorio-poem for choir and orchestra (1957) [46:48]
Big City Nights - suite for violin and chamber orchestra (1969) [24:41]
Lazar Gozman (violin); Leningrad Chamber Orchestra (Nights)
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Leningrad State Choir Capella/Vladislav Chernushenko (Twelve)
rec. no dates or locations shown. DDD
St. Petersburg Musical Archive Series

Russian Soviet composer Vadim Salmanov has not become one of the big names but he has had a few recordings. His four numbered symphonies, as championed in Leningrad, were recorded by Mravinsky who was the dedicatee of symphonies 1 and 4. The recordings of all four symphonies have been reviewed here: the Melodiya set in 2014 and the now obscure IM Labs issue in 2006. A selection of the string quartets came out on Northern Flowers.

Salmanov was very much a Leningrad figure. He was born there, studied there and was on the academic staff of the city's conservatory. His path to music was not a direct one. For many years his subject was geology which he only forsook in favour of music in 1935. His teacher at the Conservatory was Mikhail Gnessin. One of his fellow students was Andrei Eshpai. His musical progress was interrupted by wartime service in the Red Army. His work-list is extensive and includes two violin concertos (1964, 1974) and six string quartets (1945–1971). His songs and choral settings showed a predilection for the works of Lorca, Neruda, Blok and Yesenin.

There's twelve years between these two works as well as a defined stylistic divide. The Twelve is a sturdy monument of a piece. The words - and there are plenty of them - are by Alexander Blok (1880-1921) who also attracted settings by Shostakovich and Sviridov. Big City Nights is a suite for violin and chamber orchestra in three movements. The 'big city' is Leningrad. Salmanov is free with eerie and sometimes punishing dissonance here although he also revels in acidic lyricism.

The Twelve sets Blok's extended poem in six sections. Blok's Twelve are twelve Bolshevik soldiers marching through the snowstorm-racked streets of what was then Petrograd. Uncomfortable and controversial parallels are drawn with the Twelve Apostles. The words describe brutality and in some measure seek to redeem it by a fixed conviction that the Revolution justifies all. In the last section the marching twelve are enigmatically seen to be led by Christ glimpsed through the blizzard. The words are printed in the liner in what reads as a very fluent English translation. It spares no-one's sensibilities.

The first movement is The Wind. It's the single biggest structure in the piece. Its monumentality feeds off its straining stride and vice versa. The massed choir delivers huge fervour and Salmanov revels in wild antiphonal effects which are well caught by the recording. It's all very inventive and varied with some eldritch effects. There's a remarkable echo of Rimsky's Russian Easter Festival in the woodwind writing at 7:12. The next movement rises from poster-boy populist songs of the street and countryside. There's some memorable grand fanfaring and writing that suggests a national anthem. Movement 3 The Old World is strangely nostalgic with peace invoked by thinly carolled woodwind, ripe horns and caramel-toned choral writing. Imposing bitterness returns in the next movement complete with a sturdy march decorated with a trumpet descant. Katka's death (5) takes the listener through flighty life-imbued writing - as playful as the best pages of Geoffrey Bush - to tragic brutality. Add to this some smooth honeyed singing from a choir whose qualities would surely have delighted the composer. In the final chastely snowy movement a horn calls out, sweetly — half anthem half fanfare. Catastrophe returns amid a mass of intricate work for the choir. This is a pungently moody work with more than few pages of music bearing down on the listener in a massed phalanx of humanity - quite intoxicating. This is the work's first issue on CD.

There are some subtleties in The Twelve but this is even more the case with Big City Nights which also includes prominent and rather Baxian (1:28; 6.28) writing for the piano. The first movement suggests some nocturnal Russian lark. The atmosphere is romantic, thoughtful and relaxed until suddenly there's a furious and merciless interjection. The middle movement begins steely and breathless but melts into serenity. The finale indulges in the sort of lyrical complexity to be heard in Tippett's Triple Concerto. Thunderous dissonance from the piano ushers in a slow gait that blooms into a soft glare before the return of the piano's dissonant thunder.

While it's a shame about the lack of information about date and location of these recordings the informative English-only notes by Sergey Suslov are helpful. The sound is red-blooded and the performances likewise.

Rob Barnett



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